Frosthardy Crops

Beets

Brussels sprouts

Broccoli

Cabbage

Cauliflower Carrots Kale Lettuce

Swiss chard Turnips

Radishes Spinach

Install Frames Early

Ideally, you should have the wire frame installed ahead of time so that you can cover your beds at a moment's notice if the weatherman predicts a frost, and uncover them just as quickly the next morning. Depending on the crop, you may want to cover them with blankets or plastic as you did in the spring, instead of frames, or you may want to provide a heavy mulch cover, allowing the top leaves of the plants to peek through. It will protect the fruit from freezing, yet will expose the plant tops to the sun every day. If you use a mulch cover of hay or leaves it should be light and airy so that moisture is not trapped, which can cause the plant to deteriorate or turn moldy.

For some crops, you might want to consider installing a heating mat under the soil. For example, radishes: the tops are quite hardy and with additional bottom heat and a heavy mulch once the plants are half-grown, you could extend their growing period into the cold weather. Again, weigh the cost of electricity against your anticipated profits. If you are considering a fall harvest, and you want to extend the season by two to eight weeks, you have to plan carefully when to plant and when to start providing protection. Of course, no one knows exactly when to expect the first frost or freeze, but by using your frost charts, you can do some fairly intelligent guesswork.

Put your wire frame in position in the fall. That way, when a frost threatens, you can quickly cover the frame with plastic.

These Keep Growing

Many crops will continue growing into the cold weather months, although slowly, if they're provided with the barest minimum of protection. These include spinach, Swiss chard, and many varieties of leaf lettuce. The root crops are most adaptable to a winter harvest, as long as you protect the ground from freezing while enabling the tops to continue growingslowly. Usually the only thing required is a mulch of hay or leaves, which allows the tops to peek out. Some crops, including kale and Brussels sprouts, actually improve in cold weather: the autumn freezes sweeten the taste. In fact, it is sometimes recommended that these not be harvested until after the first heavy frost. Here again, your wire frame covers will come in handy.

If you're going to extend your harvest all the way into the winter, you can leave it in its original location, protected by a heavy mulch, or move it to a more protected area. Carrots and potatoes can be dug and stored in moist sand in a cool spot such as your garage or they can be refrigerated. Use this technique to store a very large crop of something such as carrots and you can supply your customer all through the winter. The object here is to supply a crop so far out of season that it will command an extremely high price. This is what makes all your extra efforts worthwhile. On the other hand, you may have lost one of your biggest selling points, namely freshly harvested produce. Are you now merely competing with the food industry, which harvests huge quantities and stores them so they can be delivered year-round? If so, you're not going to win. Your stored carrots can't compete with out-of-season carrots from another part of the country. The only way you have a fighting chance is if your buyer insists on organically grown or local produce.

Growing Under Glass

Then there's growing "under glass." There's nothing wrong with this, but make sure you can produce enough to keep your buyer interested. It's a lot of work to set up a greenhouse environment, even if it's just cloches or a series of plastic-covered wire frames. Finally, remember your original objective of supplying 10 to 20 percent of your buyer's needs. If you drop down to just a few percent, you're going to hurt your future summer business as the buyer may feel it's not worthwhile to fool with such a small amount.

Some crops are more profitably sold out-of-season than others, but you may be put to a lot of extra work and expense to produce those out-of-season harvests. Other things are always so readily available year-round because they're grown in different parts of the country so it's tough to compete.

The last point to consider is that it's probably time you had a rest. As the popular song says, "You got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them." So quit while you're ahead!

Even if you live in Florida or along the coast in southern California where you could easily grow all winter long, maybe you need a little rest from your business.

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